Our cheese choices are becoming more sophisticated and eclectic. Gone are the days when mass-produced ‘bricks’ dominated. According to supermarket research and the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association — speciality cheese purchases are up over seven per cent in both sales and volume in one year.
Halloumi is one variety rapidly growing in popularity. Sometimes referred to as the ‘feta of Cyprus’, it is an excellent cooking cheese. Salty and semi-firm, halloumi can be quickly cooked on a grill or in a frying pan and is a wonderful vegetarian option for snacks or mains.
Blue cheese remains popular for nibbles at five o’clock. (Try it cubed and skewered with watermelon.) There is now a wide range to choose from. If you’re new to blue cheese, then the mild Puhoi Blue Brie is an excellent option. If you like your cheese bold, then you will relish Kapiti’s award-winning Kikorangi. And there are plenty of taste treats in between.
For a moreish, mild semi-soft cow’s milk cheese choose havarti — excellent on cheeseboards or sliced, grilled or melted. But when smoked, havarti’s aroma and taste is even more difficult to resist.
To ensure maximum enjoyment, table cheese should be removed from the refrigerator at least an hour before serving.
The smooth antipasto mixture on the base of the toasts gives a flavour boost to the cheese.
4-8 asparagus spears, trimmed
4 generous slices ciabatta
1/2 large avocado, stoned, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup good vinaigrette
11/2 cups baby rocket
8 mint leaves
200g Whitestone Ferry Road Halloumi
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
4-6 tablespoons Barkers Sundried Tomato & Capers Antipasto or similar
Blanch the asparagus until crisp-tender. Cool in icy water. Lightly toast the ciabatta. Sprinkle the avo with a little vinaigrette. Place the rocket and mint in a bowl.
Slice the halloumi into 8 equal pieces. Brush with olive oil. Heat the remaining oil in a ridged frying pan. Fry the halloumi for about 1 minute each side, until golden.
Spread the toasted ciabatta with the antipasto mixture. Top with the well-drained asparagus and the avo. Toss the rocket and mint in the remaining vinaigrette and place on the avo. Top with the halloumi. The toasts can be sprinkled with a few chilli flakes, if preferred. Serves 4 as a light meal.
CAPSICUMS WITH SMOKED HAVARTI
Vegetarian and gluten-free, these stuffed capsicums make a healthy side or main.
1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup each: finely sliced spinach, small cauliflorets
8 cocktail tomatoes, halved
freshly ground black pepper and thyme leaves to taste
4 red capsicums
90g Kapiti Smoked Havarti Cheese, sliced into 8 pieces
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Sauté the onion in half the oil in a frying pan on medium-low heat, until softened. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the spinach, cauliflorets and tomatoes. Season. Cover and cook until the cauliflorets are just tender.
Meanwhile, halve the capsicums (and stalks) lengthwise — leaving the stalks attached.
Remove the seeds and ribs. Place in the microwave and cook for 2 minutes, until slightly softened.
Place in an oven pan. Fill with the vegetable mixture and top with the havarti. Cook for 10-15 minutes until hot and the cheese has melted. Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a light meal.
BLUE CHEESE QUESADILLAS
Quesadillas are Mexican toasted sandwiches. Serve with a crisp salad, if preferred. Alternatively, cut into eights and serve as finger food with drinks.
4 medium flour tortillas
4 tablespoons sweet onion marmalade
2/3 cup chopped, shredded cooked chicken
50g blue cheese, crumbled
spray cooking oil
Place 2 tortillas on a board and spread evenly with the onion marmalade. Top with the chicken and the blue cheese. Cover with the remaining tortillas.
Spray a frying pan with oil. Add a quesadilla and cook on medium heat until the base is golden and crisp. Flip over and cook the other side. Repeat with the second quesadilla.
Alternatively, cook on an oiled baking tray in a 220°C oven.
Cut each quesadilla into quarters. Great served topped with sour cream. Serves 2 as a light meal.